Pastors, elders, bishops, or overseers and the qualifications that go with this office

Recently, Oak Park Baptist Church (the church where I serve) has been discussing a possible transition to a different form of government.  Don’t worry this post isn’t going to be diatribe towards churches or individuals that don’t believe in the particular form of government I’m going to advocate in this post – there’s too much vitriol when it comes to this topic already and it’s not my intention to add fuel to the fire.  What this post will be is a summary post of what actually is an elder, pastor, bishop or overseer and they’re called to be and do.

“Elders are the male leaders of the church who are synonymously called pastors, bishops, and overseers throughout the New Testament.  While the various words are used interchangeably, they each refer to a different aspect of the same role in the same office.  As an elder, a man has rank and authority to rule and govern a church.  As a bishop, he has the responsibility before God to rule and protect a church.  As a pastor, he had the high honor of caring for Christians and evangelizing and non-Christians.  As an overseer, he has the responsibility before God of leading and managing the church” (all quotes will be taken from Mark Driscoll’s book “A book you’ll actually read On Church Leadership” to which I’ll reference in full at the end of this post).

The Scriptures specifically and primarily outline the criteria or qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.  Driscoll says that (1) this “list is really about men being good Christians, assuming that good Christians will make good pastors” (go figure), (2) the qualifications laid out in these two passages are tied intimately not what he does at the church but the work he does at home as a husband, dad, and as a neighbor, and (3) ascertaining “whether or not a man actually meets these criteria requires relational time in community over a long season because the list is about counting character.”

Here’s an explanation I put together several months ago on the qualifications as listed in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, as well as an excerpt from Alexander Strauch from Biblical Leadership.

The overriding concern of the New Testament in relation to church leadership is for the right kind of men to serve as elders (pastors) and deacons.  The offices of God’s Church are not honorary positions bestowed on individuals who have attended church faithfully or who are in senior in years.  Nor are they board positions to be filled with good friends, rich donors, or charismatic personalities.  Nor are they positions that only graduate seminary students can fill.  The church offices, both eldership and deaconship, are open to all who meet the apostolic, biblical requirements.

I Timothy 3 – ESV (NKJV)                                                                                              Titus 1 – ESV (NKJV)


  • A pastor/elder must be a man.  God has created man and woman equal but complementary in their roles/responsibilities.

Aspires to the office (desires the position)

  • Paul makes it clear that those who are chosen to serve should want to serve.  A pastor should desire to do his work and do so gladly, not under compulsion.

Must be above reproach (blameless)                                     Above reproach (blameless)

  • Not perfection, but godliness.  He must be free from any blemishes of character or conduct.  His relationship with his wife and children is commendable, and morally he has no glaring weaknesses.  Outsiders cannot point their finger and discredit his profession to be a faithful follower of Christ.

The husband of one wife                                                             The husband of one wife

  • The importance of marital and sexual faithfulness.  It points to the faithfulness of a husband towards his wife.  He must be a one-woman man, which means there must not be another woman to whom he is physically or emotionally involved with (romantically speaking).  He must love, honor, and be devoted to his wife and her alone.

Sober-minded   (temperate)

  • Best understood to be describing mental sobriety, that is, a mind that can think clearly and spiritually about important matters.  Additionally, it means to be self-controlled, having a balanced judgment and being able to rationally make cool-headed decisions.

Self-controlled (sober-minded)                                                 Self-controlled (sober-minded

  • The need for disciplined exercise of good judgment.  It speaks of being prudent, sound-minded, and discreet.

Respectable (of good behavior)

  • He must have character that is respectable.  It is not enough to get his respect solely from his office.  If others are to follow and emulate him, he must prove that his life is worth following.

Hospitable                                                                                          Hospitable

  • Making time not only for his family but also for others.  He must take the time to build relationships with other people.  To effectively shepherd the flock of God, his home must be open so that he can minister to flock more than just on Sunday mornings

Able to teach                                                                                     Hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught – give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke

those who contradict it

(holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict)

  • They must be able to communicate God’s Word in a way that is accurate and understandable.  He must not only be “able to teach” but also teach sound doctrine and correct those who are in error.

Not a drunkard (not given to wine)                                          Not a drunkard (not given to wine)

  • He must not be addicted to wine or other strong drink/substance that may bring shame on the person and reproach on the church.  Such a person lacks self-control.

Not violent                                                                                         Not violent

  • A person who is violent (pugnacious) is one who is easily irritated and has a bad temper.  This person is more apt to fight than to calmly talk through a difficult situation.


  • He must be kind, gracious, and forbearing.  A gentle person is not overbearing but patient with others, particularly when they have done wrong.

Not quarrelsome

  • A person who is peaceful and gentle.  There are constant quarrels in the church and an elder/pastor must be able to deal with those tensions and not add to them.  He must be a peacemaker.

Not a lover of money (not greedy for money)

  • If a person is a lover of money, it is difficult for him to be a lover of God.  That person’s passions will be divided and they will become ineffective and distracted.

Manage his own household well,                                                           His children are believers and not open

keeping his children submissive                                                            to the charge of debauchery or insubordination

(one who rules his house well, having                                                  (having faithful children not accused of

his children in submission with all reverence)                                   dissipation or insubordination)

  • “Manage” carries the idea of governing, leading, and giving direction to the family.  It speaks to the role of a father.  He must have respectful, obedient children…not heavy-handed and authoritarian with his children but “with all dignity” or “all reverence.”  Family life must take precedence over the ministry:  God first, family second, ministry third.
  • The word “believer” in Titus is better translated “faithful.”  This interpretation is favored because in I Timothy Paul does not mention the need for elder’s/pastor’s children to be believers.  A man’s household becomes a reflection of the dedication and commitment he has of training them in the ways of the Lord.

Not a recent convert

  • When a new convert takes on an important and respected leadership role without the deep maturity that comes with time, he may become filled with pride and end up ruining his ministry and defaming the name of God.  A new convert does not truly understand his own weakness and the temptations that might ensnare him.  The church at Ephesus was a well-established church when Paul wrote I Timothy (probably in existence of 15 years or more).  The church in Crete was much younger and as a result Pau didn’t include this restriction.

Well thought of by outsiders

  • A pastor must maintain a good reputation before a world of watching unbelievers

Not arrogant (self-willed)

  • A self-willed person that insists on things be done his way.  It is the opposite of being gentle or forbearing.

Not quick-tempered

  • Someone who is easily angered and unable to control their anger.  He quickly lashes out at people, rather than displaying the patience and self-control of Christ.

A lover of good (a lover of what is good)

  • Willingly helping others and seeking their good

Upright (just)

  • Being just or righteous; meaning living according to God’s Word.


  • He should be wholly devoted to God and His Word, regardless of what others may think.

Disciplined (self-controlled)

  • This involves self-discipline in every aspect of one’s life, including physical desires.

So what do pastors, bishops, elders or overseers actually do?

Driscoll compiles a list of all the duties that are outlined in Scripture:

  • Praying and studying Scripture – Acts 6:4
  • Ruling/leading the church – 1 Tim 5:17
  • Managing the church – 1 Tim 3:4-5
  • Caring for the people in the church – 1 Pet 5:2-5
  • Giving account to God for the church – Heb 13:17
  • Living exemplary lives – Heb 13:7
  • Rightly using the authority God has given them – Acts 20:28
  • Teaching the Bible correctly – Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:2
  • Preaching – 1 Tim 5:17
  • Praying for the sick – James 5:13-15
  • Teaching sound doctrine  and refuting false teachings – Titus 1:9
  • Working hard – 1 Thes 5:12
  • Rightly using money and power – 1 Pet 5:1-3
  • Protecting the church from false teachers – Acts 20:17-31
  • Disciplining unrepentant Christians – Matt 18:15-17
  • Obeying the secular laws as the legal ruling body of a corporation – Rom 13:1-7
  • Developing other leaders and teachers – Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:1-2

The last point has become particularly apparent to me concerning the role and responsibility of pastors/elders.  Driscoll says, “no man should be an elder unless he can effectively train people to not only my mature Christians, but mature Christians leaders who train other leaders.”  Thus, a pastor’s responsibility does comprise in a large-part the preaching and teaching of the Bible, but additionally he must see to it that he is entrusting the truth of the Bible to faithful men and raising up and mentoring other men.  To not do so, either because of priority of time or he is physically incapable of reproducing himself in other men, I believe means he should not be a pastor…plain and simple.

Mark Driscoll, A book you’ll actually read On Church Leadership (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 14-19.

Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Ruth, 1995), 68.

2 thoughts on “Pastors, elders, bishops, or overseers and the qualifications that go with this office

  1. The husband of one wife

    “The importance of marital and sexual faithfulness. It points to the faithfulness of a husband towards his wife. He must be a one-woman man, which means there must not be another woman to whom he is physically or emotionally involved with (romantically speaking). He must love, honor, and be devoted to his wife and her alone.”

    Wow, that’s a rather novel explanation!! The husband of one wife means just that. The elder can not be divorced and remarried or widowed and remarried.

    • Joe, thanks for your comment. It’s obvious we stand in disagreement with regards to interpreting the phrase “husband of one wife.” I’m assuming your comment “the husband of one wife means just that” would mean certain people, such as the apostle Paul who wrote 1 Timothy, would be disqualified since he was not married? Also, it seems as if you have a very wooden, rigid interpretation? Would you also say that an individual who does not have children is precluded from serving as an elder, since the Scriptures do speak to that qualification…”he must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.”


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